Investigations Wrongful Convictions

Police Investigative Misconduct Railroaded an Innocent Catholic Priest

Police Investigative Misconduct Railroaded an Innocent Catholic Priest

Ryan MacDonald

February 20, 2021

In September, 1988, Keene, New Hampshire sex crimes detective James F. McLaughlin received a letter from Ms. Sylvia Gale, a New Hampshire child protection social worker. Ms. Gale’s letter reported third-hand information that Catholic priest, Gordon J. MacRae, had once been a priest in Florida “where he molested two boys, one of whom was murdered and his body mutilated. The case is supposed to be still unsolved.”

According to Sylvia Gale’s letter, the information was passed to her by an unnamed employee of New Hampshire Catholic Social Services who claimed that she had been told this information by her employer, Monsignor John Quinn, on condition that she would be fired if she ever divulged it.

Detective McLaughlin skipped the logical first steps that such a letter might have set in motion. He did not consult the priest’s personnel file – which revealed nothing about his ever being in Florida. And he did not consult Monsignor John Quinn, the named originator of the story.

Instead, armed with the explosive Florida murder-molestation letter, McLaughlin set out to interview dozens of parents and their adolescent sons who had prior contacts with MacRae. Within a week, the entire community was in a state of alarm about the murderous lecher-priest in its midst.

Among those McLaughlin interviewed about Ms. Gale’s letter in 1988 were four young adult brothers, Jonathan, David, Thomas, and Jay Grover, the adopted sons of another state social worker, Ms. Patricia Grover, a colleague of Sylvia Gale. According to McLaughlin’s 72-page report, she vowed to question each of her sons about their interactions with MacRae. None of them reported knowing or suspecting anything of a criminal nature.

McLaughlin’s report on this investigation was filled with innuendo, but no substance. He repeatedly attributed untrue information about MacRae to unnamed “informants” and other “subjects.” Toward the end of the report he finally quoted a “Sgt. Smith” from an unnamed Florida police agency.

“Sgt. Smith,” if he actually exists, reported that while there was no molestation-murder case involving a priest, there was a priest who molested a child in Florida and was “quietly moved by the church to New Hampshire.” “Sgt. Smith” added that “your suspect is too young to be that priest.” McLaughlin’s report gives the impression that he never even thought to ask for the name of that priest.

Five years passed. In 1993, one of the Grover brothers, Jonathan, age 24, appeared in McLaughlin’s office with a new story that he had been unable to remember five years earlier. He said he was repeatedly sexually assaulted when he was twelve years old by two priests, Gordon MacRae and Stephen Scruton. His initial claim was that the two priests acted in concert, fondling his genitals with their feet while in a hot tub at the YMCA. He then went on to describe other assaults “in the rectory where the priests live.”

An immediate problem was that MacRae was never in that parish until Grover was fourteen years old, and Scruton was never there until Grover was sixteen. A second problem was that one of Grover’s high school classmates, “T.B.” claimed 18 months earlier in an interview with McLaughlin that he was molested by Stephen Scruton alone who fondled his genitals with his foot in a hot tub at the YMCA. “T.B.” received an undisclosed financial settlement from the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, NH.

The “T.B.” case had no connection to MacRae. McLaughlin wrote the Grover report while apparently having no memory whatsoever that he wrote a nearly identical report eighteen months earlier about a foot molestation event by a priest in a hot tub at the YMCA.

Complicating both accounts, McLaughlin’s investigation file contained a transcript of “The Church’s Sexual Watergate,” an episode of a Geraldo Rivera Show that aired in November 1988. It had apparently been faxed to McLaughlin from the studio. The Geraldo transcript preceded McLaughlin’s reports in both cases above, and contained this excerpt:

Geraldo: “What did the priest do to you, Greg?”

Greg Ridel: “When I was 12 years old, he placed his foot on my genitals in a YMCA hot tub and began rubbing. This went on to other things in the rectory where the priests live.”

MacRae was brought to trial for these unsubstantiated claims in September, 1994. Pre-trial, he was twice offered plea deals to serve one-to-three years in prison for a guilty plea. Then the offer was reduced to one-to-two years. Citing his innocence, MacRae rejected these offers. Before his trial commenced, his Catholic diocese, already heavily into settlement negotiations, issued this press release:

“The Church has been a victim of the actions of Gordon MacRae just as these individuals …. It is clear that he will never again function as a priest.”

After the trial, the Grover brothers received financial settlements from the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, NH in excess of $610,000.

Unlike his protocols in nearly all other cases, Detective McLaughlin recorded none of his interviews with claimants in the MacRae case. A reason for the absence of recorded interviews may become clear from a statement of Steven Wollschlager, a young man who accused MacRae during one of McLaughlin’s interviews, and then recanted, refusing to repeat his accusations to a grand jury. From his sworn statement:

“In 1994 before [MacRae] was to go on trial, I was contacted again by McLaughlin. I was aware at the time of the [MacRae] trial, knowing full well that it was all bogus and having heard all the talk of the lawsuits and money involved, and also the reputations of those making the accusations …. During this meeting I just listened to the scenarios being presented to me. The lawsuits and money were of great discussion and I was left feeling that if I would just go along with the story I could reap the rewards as well.

“McLaughlin asked me three times if [MacRae] ever came on to me sexually or offered me money for sexual favors. [He] had me believing that all I had to do was make up a story about [MacRae] and I could reap a large sum of money as others already had. McLaughlin … referenced that life could be easier with a large sum of money … I was at the time using drugs and could have been influenced to say anything they wanted for money. A short time later after being subpoenaed to court, I had a different feeling about the situation.”

Mr. Wollschlager has never been allowed to present his testimony before a judge in any of the summarily denied state and federal appeals of the MacRae case.

Knowing that MacRae rejected plea deal offers to serve only one to two years in prison, Judge Arthur Brennan chastised the priest for insisting on a trial and sentenced him to consecutive terms for a total of 67 years. MacRae is now in his 27th year in prison and continues to maintain his innocence.

Author’s Note: For a full version of this story, see “Truth in Justice: Was the Wrong Catholic Priest Sent to Prison?”

Prosecutorial Misconduct

Judge Calls for DOJ Probe of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Judge Calls for DOJ Probe of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Iran Sanctions Case

The order followed a blistering opinion that took to task the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office for making “countless” belated disclosures.

By Tom McParland | February 17, 2021 at 05:46 PM

A Manhattan federal judge on Wednesday called on the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate “systemic” failures brought to light by the bungled prosecution of an Iranian businessman accused of funneling more than $115 million through the American financial system.

The four-page order, from U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Southern District of New York, followed a blistering opinion in September, which took the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office to task for making “countless” belated disclosures to lawyers representing Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad before, during and after his trial earlier this year.

Sadr was convicted last March, following a two-week trial that was complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but his Steptoe & Johnson attorneys have since aggressively pursued evidence they suspected the government had withheld in discovery. In June, then-U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman acknowledged a spate of “discovery-related issues” and determined that it would “not be in the interests of justice to further prosecute this case.

Nathan, however, had continued her own fact-finding mission to determine whether any lawyers for the prosecution had either intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence or purposely misled the court about the late disclosures.

“Government lawyers wield enormous prosecutorial power,” Nathan wrote in her Sept. 16 ruling. “They must exercise it in a way that is fully consistent with their constitutional and ethical obligations. And it is the obligation of the courts to ensure that they do and hold them accountable if they do not.”

On Wednesday, Nathan said that she had found not found any intentional wrongdoing by individual prosecutors, but reiterated that “disclosure failures and misrepresentations in this case represent grave derelictions of prosecutorial responsibility.”

“In light of this, and given the systemic nature of the errors and misconduct that occurred in this case, the court will not engage in further fact-finding,” she wrote. “Instead, the court urges a full investigation by DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility of all matters related to prosecutorial misconduct in this case.”

“It is the Court’s hope that reforms adopted by the United States Attorney’s Office, coupled with a full investigation by OPR, will ensure that the Government’s errors in this case are not repeated,” the order said.

Excerpted from:

Campus Title IX Title IX Equity Project

Budget Cuts Urged for Colleges that Persist in Discriminating on the Basis of Sex


Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


Budget Cuts Urged for Colleges that Persist in Discriminating on the Basis of Sex

WASHINGTON / February 18, 2021 – The federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced that it currently has [number] open investigations of [name of state] universities for allegedly discriminating against male students (1). SAVE urges state lawmakers to impose a 5-10% budget cut on institutions that fail to promptly comply with the long-standing Title IX law designed to end sex discrimination.

Following is a screen shot from the OCR website that lists the [name of state] universities currently under investigation for discriminatory single-sex programs or scholarships (2):

[Screen shot here]

The Investigation Date column reveals that some colleges are resisting implementation of needed changes, even months after the federal investigation was opened. In contrast, numerous other universities promptly eliminated their sex-discriminatory programs upon notification (3).

The federal Title IX law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” (4)

Female students now represent 56% of all undergraduate students, compared to 44% male students (5). Male students are under-represented in numerous fields such as the health professions, public administration, education, and others (6).

“In the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion…universities have often chosen inequity and exclusion,” commentator Adam Kissel ironically reveals (7). State lawmakers should not allow sex discriminatory policies to continue on college campuses.


  1. In the Type of Discrimination box, select “Title IX – Single Sex Campus Programs” or “Title IX – Single Sex Scholarships”
  2. Institution Type “PSE” signifies “Post Secondary Education”
Investigations Start By Believing

Has EVAWI Been Moderating or Covering its Tracks?

Has EVAWI Been Moderating or Covering its Tracks?
By James Baresel

February 16, 2021

In 2020 End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) issued a revised version of its instruction manual Effective Report Writing: Using the Language of Non-Consensual Sex, an older edition of which had been in use since 2006. Both versions are based in a forensic assumption of guilt (consequent upon a prejudiced assumption of the veracity of complainants), moderation to which in the revised manual has been characterized by critics as “too little, too late.”

That, however, is something of an understatement. The truth is that the changes were not only made following years of criticism of EVAWI’s methods of investigation and report writing by legal experts, advocacy groups, academics and journalists The truth is that they were not only made after numerous court rulings in favor of due process. And the truth is that there is little reason to believe the changes do much more than (somewhat) hide the prejudiced and prejudicial nature of EVAWI’s methods from public view or a shift to more subtle ways of inculcating them.

Since EVAWI receives considerable support (both financial and otherwise) from the federal Department of Justice, and since the new presidential administration is the ideological successor to one that had a record of undermining due process, it will be useful to take a closer look at the history behind the changes to the above named instruction manual and its relationship to the practices of the organizations in question.

Founded in 2003, EVAWI purports to be an independent agency dedicated to fighting sexual assault. In that capacity it has received over $7.5 million from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and provides training programs for police officers accredited both by the governments of ten states and by particular agencies within others []. But what it really does is attempt to instill a prejudiced assumption that complainants’ honesty is to be taken for granted, and, therefore, to substitute presumption of the guilt of those accused of sexual assault for forensic objectivity and the legal presumption of innocence.

Both versions of Effective Report Writing reveal the prejudiced nature of the methods advocated by EVAWI. Both teach investigators to document “suspect statements, especially those that corroborate the victim’s account or provide an implausible or even absurd version of reality.” To “especially” record statements by suspects that seem to corroborate the accounts of self-professed victims, rather than give due attention to statements that put the veracity self-professed victims’ accounts in question, is nothing other than deliberate misrepresentation. And while it might be reasonable to highlight claims impartial assessment has judged implausible, such impartiality is impossible if an investigator begins by assuming the veracity of complainants. Both version also insistent upon police reports presenting their accounts from the perspective of complainants rather than from that of a neutral third party.

Bad as this might be, the original manual contained particularly damning statements that were removed as part of the revision. The most serious of these was the instruction that, in order to “better support successful prosecution,” police investigators should “try to fill in details that are realistic, based on the kinds of sexual assault cases you have handled and the victims you have interviewed” as doing this will better “articulate the context of force, threat, or fear that the victim experience.” Detectives, in other words, are to state in their official reports that particular incidents of alleged sexual assault included actions which the complainants themselves never claimed happened but which, by being typical of the type of incidents alleged, and can communicate the “feeling” of such incidents.

While these statements are not found in the revised manual, the paragraph that followed them in the original remains unchanged and continues to refer to “‘missing information’ [details that are realistic] that is filled into the report.” It would seem that those receiving instruction from EVAWI are still taught to include made up “realistic details” in official reports despite the removal of such teaching from the written manual.

The history behind the changes to Effective Report Writing further suggest that they are little (if anything) more than cosmetic, designed to improve EVAWI’s public image or to hide evidence of its methods from the public and from government agencies. In February 2018 the Center for Prosecutor Integrity–an organization dedicated to defending due process–sent a letter to the Federal Department of Justice, informing it of the manual’s biases (1). The DOJ responded in May of the year, informing the CPI that its communication had been forwarded to Office on Violence Against Women (2), the DOJ department that funds EVAWI. Allowing for the time it would have first taken for the Office on Violence Against Women to analyze the complaint and to communicate with EVAWI and then taken for the EVAWI to act on any communications from the Office on Violence Against Women, the release date of revisions to Effective Report Writing suggest they were (at least partially) an attempt to counteract CPI criticism.

And that means that unless the DOJ and the Office on Violence Against Women possess “an implausible or even absurd” degree of naivety they must be willing to turn a blind eye to EVAWI’s attempt to hide its intentions from the public record



Campus Department of Education Department of Justice Discrimination Title IX

BOLD program under investigation for Title IX complaint

By  — Senior Writer, The Ithacan
Published: February 10, 2021

The U.S. Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation against Ithaca College’s BOLD Women’s Leadership Network after receiving a complaint of a Title IX violation by a University of Michigan professor.

Mark Perry, professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan, filed a complaint against the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network in August on the basis of sex discrimination. The BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is a leadership development program that awards a two-year scholarship to students who identify as women, particularly those who have been underrepresented in higher education.

Samantha Elebiary, BOLD Program Director at the college, said that she cannot comment on the status of an ongoing investigation but that the college will cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights.

Perry said the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network violates Title IX policy, which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” according to the U.S. Department of Education website.  Because the college allows students to apply federal money to their tuition through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the college is required to comply with Title IX policy.

The BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is funded by the Pussycat Foundation, which sets the application criteria for participating colleges. The program requires that applicants identify as women, but Elebiary said nonbinary identifying students are not discouraged from applying. Elebiary said students are not required to disclose their gender identity on the application.

President Shirley M. Collado brought the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network to the college in 2017, shortly after she became president of the college. Collado founded the program when she worked at Rutgers University–Newark. Elebiary started working at the college as a residence director in 2017 and began working with BOLD in 2018.

Collado has not responded to requests for comment.

At the All-College Gathering on Feb. 9, Collado said the program has received over $4 million in funding since she brought the program to the college.

“The main goal is to provide that additional professional leadership development to students who identify as women or female and are in their junior and senior year,” Elebiary said.

Perry said he has filed 283 Title IX complaints. A majority of these complaints are against colleges with programs or spaces exclusive to women. He said he has filed complaints against BOLD Women’s Leadership Network programs at Middlebury College, The College of Saint Rose, University of Connecticut and Colby-Sawyer College. The only college that hosts a BOLD Women’s Leadership Network program that he has not filed a complaint against is Rutgers University-Newark.

His complaint against The College of Saint Rose was also opened for investigation by the Office for Civil Rights. The other complaints are still pending investigation.

Perry said he believes the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is in violation of Title IX because there is not a similar program for men, and men are ineligible for the current program.

“It’s not just illegal, but it seems unethical to have federal civil rights legislation that’s only enforced selectively and with a double standard,” Perry said.

At this time, Elebiary said the college does not have any plans to alter the structure of the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network.

The college hosts leadership scholarships that are open to all genders like the Leadership Scholar Program Award, the Martin Luther King Scholar Program and the Park Scholar Program. The college also offers leadership opportunities to all students through the Student Leadership Institute organized by the Office of Student Engagement. Student-athletes can also participate in the Ithaca College Sports Leadership Academy, a program that coaches its members on developing individual and team leadership skills.

Perry said he believes women do not need special programming for leadership development because they attend college at a higher rate than men. Women earned more than 57% of undergraduate degrees and 59% of master’s degrees in 2018, according to the Center for American Progress.

While women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population, they are still largely underrepresented in leadership, according to the Center for American Progress.

Law & Justice Sexual Harassment

Virginia Senate blocks strange harassment legislation, but it might still pass

By Liam Bissainthe February 9, 2021

The Virginia state senate blocked a bill that could potentially change the definition of “sexual harassment.” It would also hold even small employers liable for comments defined as either “workplace harassment” or “sexual harassment.” Employers would held liable even for conduct that occurs “outside of the workplace,” and even for conduct committed by “nonemployees” such as customers.

But the very same provisions are found in another bill passed by the Virginia House of Delegates, that is still sitting in a committee of the state senate. So the legislation could still conceivably become law.

In a 20-to-18 vote, the state senate voted on February 5 to send the first harassment bill (SB 1360) back to the Judiciary Committee, where it died on February 6. But the exact same provisions appear to be found in the second harassment bill, HB 2155, which is still alive and sitting in the General Laws committee.

Reportedly, the ladies at Richmond SHRM objected to the bill. According to a comment at the Bacon’s Rebellion blog, they were concerned that

Any offensive comment based on a protected class is potentially the basis for a claim, regardless of whether the person at whom the comment was directed files the claim or was offended.

Employees may file a claim even if they are not the victim, if the conduct occurred outside of work (arguably outside the scope of employment), and there was no harm or adverse employment action. Because sexual harassment under these bills does not have an “unwelcome” conduct standard, a third party could arguably file a claim based on mutually consensual conduct between two other people that they deem offensive.

Bystander employees may sue on his/her own and thus bring in the target of harassment even if the target wishes to remain silent and work the situation out on his/her own.”

A lawyer also raised separate concerns about the bill in articles at Bacon’s Rebellion and at CNS News. The bill states that harassment can consist of “verbal, pictorial, audio, or visual conduct.”

The bill also says “conduct may be workplace harassment regardless of whether …. the conduct occurred outside of the workplace.” But as a federal appeals court once observed, “most complaints of sexual harassment are based on actions which, although they may be permissible in some settings, are inappropriate in the workplace.” (See Sparks v. Pilot Freight Carriers, 830 F.2d 1554, 1561 n.13 (11th Cir. 1987)).

Employers may find it very difficult to enforce workplace norms outside the workplace. Telling them to regulate conduct “regardless” of where it occurs seems like overreaching. As a judge once pointed out in her ruling in dismissing a sexual harassment lawsuit, “even top level executives are entitled to make fools of themselves after work and on their own time.” (See Alvey v. Rayovac Corp. (1996)).

There may be occasional instances where conduct outside the workplace poisons the workplace, but that’s rare enough that it’s misleading to say that conduct is harassment “regardless” of where it occurs. Often, as the court noted in the Sparks case, whether conduct occurs in the workplace makes all the difference in the world.

The bill also requires employers to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action” in response to harassment among coworkers. Surely, employers should respond promptly in cases of harassment. But “immediate” action may not be possible. What if the harassment complaint is filed after work hours, or when the supervisor is absent from the worksite?

Federal courts only require “prompt and appropriate” action, for an employer to avoid a sexual harassment lawsuit. (See, e.g., Spicer v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 66 F.3d 705, 710 (4th Cir. 1995) (“prompt and adequate”); Intlekofer v. Turnage, 973 F.2d 773, 779 (9th Cir. 1992) (“prompt and appropriate”)).

“Immediate” action is not always feasible. For example, when employees are out of the office, or deaf employees need a sign-language interpreter, that may justify the employer taking a bit more time to figure out whether the accused employee is guilty, under the “prompt and appropriate” standard used by the courts — as one court made clear in overturning a jury verdict against an employer that took a while to figure out what action to take. (See Swenson v. Potter, 271 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2001)).

The bill contains the following anti-employer language that may result in juries holding employers liable for conduct, even when its effect on the complainant is so trivial that the complainant could never win a harassment case under existing law:

Conduct may be workplace harassment regardless of whether (i) the complaining party is the individual being harassed; (ii) the complaining party acquiesced or otherwise submitted to or participated in the conduct; (iii) the conduct is also experienced by others outside of the protected class involved; (iv) the complaining party was able to continue carrying out the duties and responsibilities of such complaining party’s job despite the conduct; (v) the conduct caused a tangible or psychological injury; or (vi) the conduct occurred outside of the workplace.

(See proposed Va. Code § 2.2-3905(B)(9)(e)(3)).

This anti-employer language makes it seem like the conduct doesn’t need to be any big deal to the plaintiff, for the plaintiff to sue over it. Under existing law, people who sue over sexual or racial harassment, but view the conduct as “not a big deal,” lose their lawsuits. For example, a man admitted just that in his deposition, and lost his harassment lawsuit for precisely that reason. (See Newman v. Federal Express, 266 F.3d 401 (6th Cir. 2001)).

Under federal law, conduct amounts to illegal sexual harassment when it is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive working environment for the plaintiff, from both an objective perspective (that of a reasonable person) and the subjective perspective of the plaintiff. (See Harris v. Forklift System, 510 U.S. 17 (1993); Clark County School District v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268 (2001)). This dual requirement isn’t stated in the bill, although it doesn’t rule it out, either (it doesn’t contain words like “severe or pervasive,” although neither do some state EEO laws that are interpreted by judges as requiring “severe or pervasive” conduct for liability. Some campus sexual or racial harassment codes that banned racist or sexist speech but didn’t have language requiring that it be “severe or pervasive” were struck down as a a result, as being overly broad restrictions on free speech. See, e.g., DeJohn v. Temple University, 537 F.3d 301 (3d Cir. 2008)).

In comments to the Senate Finance Committee, Senator McClellan, chief sponsor of the bill, indicated that the bill incorporates existing legal standards on what is “sexual harassment.” But that claim is questionable given its text.

For example, the bill says conduct can be harassment “regardless” of whether “the complaining party is [not] the individual being harassed.” But if the complaining party isn’t being harassed, that’s a strong sign that the complaining party’s own work environment wasn’t hostile, which means she can’t sue under existing law. That’s because “the impact of ‘second-hand harassment’ is obviously not as great as the impact of harassment directed at the plaintiff,” notes a federal appeals court. (See Gleason v. Mesirow Financial, 118 F.3d 1134, 1144 (7th Cir. 1997)).

The bill also says conduct can be harassment “regardless” of whether “the conduct is also experienced by others outside of the protected class involved.” But if the conduct is experienced by men and women alike, that is a sign that the conduct is not discriminatory, and is not a form of discriminatory harassment, such as sexual harassment, under existing law. Instead, the conduct may simply be a normal part of the job. For example, the California Supreme Court rejected a sexual harassment lawsuit over conduct that was not aimed at the plaintiff — sexual jokes by comedy writers that were part of the process of producing an adult-oriented sitcom — because the conduct wasn’t aimed at the plaintiff based on her sex. The conduct may have offended her, but it didn’t treat women worse than men, and sexual humor was simply a necessary part of producing an adult-oriented sitcom. (See Lyle v. Warner Brothers, 132 P.3d 211 (Cal. 2006)).

The bill also doesn’t include the word “unwelcome” in its definition of sexual harassment. The Supreme Court has always said that conduct has to be “unwelcome” to be sexual harassment. Not including the word “unwelcome” in the definition of sexual harassment might lead to people suing over offensive remarks they themselves instigated (and thus objectively welcomed) or, conceivably, people suing over “welcome” but offensive relationships among their peers. Under existing law, if you instigate an exchange you can’t sue over it, such as when you say something vulgar or profane, and your co-workers respond in kind. (See Scusa v. Nestle USA, 181 F.3d 958 (8th Cir. 1998)).

Virginia Senate blocks strange harassment legislation, but it might still pass – Liberty Unyielding


“For 1989, that was standard practice for the N.Y.P.D., but now we know better.”

3 Detectives Obtained a False Murder Confession. Was It One of Dozens?

Huwe Burton was wrongly convicted because of deceptive interrogation techniques. How many more cases were “solved” the same way?

For Huwe Burton, the breaking point came late on the night of Jan. 5, 1989, as he sat with detectives in a cramped, windowless room on the second floor of a Bronx police precinct. He had not eaten or slept much in 48 hours.

A detective leaned in and said, “Tell us again about what happened that day.”

Mr. Burton, who was 16 then, repeated his story. He had come home two days earlier after spending the day at school and then at his girlfriend’s house, to find his mother, Keziah Burton, facedown on her bed, stabbed to death. Her nightgown was pulled up to her waist. A blue telephone cord was wrapped around her wrist.

What happened next in the interrogation room would reverberate in powerful ways over the coming decades. A false confession. An innocent man imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Serious questions about the tactics used by the three detectives involved in the investigation into Ms. Burton’s killing — and many others.

And now, a wide-ranging inquiry by the Bronx district attorney into whether the detectives’ tactics had tainted guilty verdicts in 31 homicide cases that relied on confessions.

The inquiry highlights how a new generation of prosecutors in New York and elsewhere is delving deeply into whether deceptive police interrogation tactics might have warped the criminal justice system through false confessions and wrongful convictions.

The examination comes after the emergence of hundreds of cases across the country in which people were sent to prison only to be exonerated later through the use of DNA or the discovery of new evidence.

Most of the Bronx cases being reviewed date to an era when violent crime in New York was at record highs. The police were under significant pressure to make arrests, especially in high-profile cases, and prosecutors faced similar demands to win cases they brought to trial.

But in some instances, the police and prosecutors moved too fast, made mistakes and ignored or withheld evidence that suggested they had the wrong person, exoneration experts say.

In Mr. Burton’s case, a judge exonerated him in his mother’s killing in 2019 after the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that investigates wrongful convictions, unearthed evidence not only that detectives used psychologically coercive techniques to get his confession, but that the prosecution had withheld evidence suggesting someone else was the killer.

That, and questions about other cases, prompted the Bronx district attorney, Darcel D. Clark, to order her office’s Conviction Integrity Unit to review dozens of other homicide investigations handled by the same detectives.

In a federal lawsuit filed in December, Mr. Burton accused the detectives of using lies, a false promise and a threat to persuade him to admit to something he had not done. He asserts that the detectives, to protect their reputations, and the prosecutor pressed ahead with the charges even after learning he had an alibi.

“Everybody got on board and thought it was a good idea to do this to a 16-year-old child after he had just lost his mom,” Mr. Burton said. “They chose to say ‘No, this is what we’re doing — we’re just going to lock him up.’”

The National Registry of Exonerations found that official misconduct played a role in the criminal convictions of more than half of 2,400 Americans who were exonerated between 1989 and 2019. For Black men wrongly convicted of murder, the proportion was 78 percent.

New York State has the third-highest exoneration rate — behind Illinois and Texas — and it ranks second for the number of convictions overturned because of a false confession, with 44 such cases since 1992, according to the registry.

Ms. Clark’s office will not release the names of the defendants in the cases being reviewed, but records show that the detectives in Mr. Burton’s case were involved in at least three other homicide cases that have been challenged in court.

The detectives — Stanley Schiffman, Sevelie Jones and Frank Viggiano — declined to be interviewed or did not respond to messages, but in past court proceedings Mr. Jones defended their handling of Mr. Burton’s confession and claimed it was spontaneous and credible.

A lawyer for Mr. Viggiano, Kyle Watters, said his client denied wrongdoing. Asked about the review, Mr. Viggiano said, “I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

Ms. Clark, who sought to overturn Mr. Burton’s conviction, has defended the work of the detectives, two of whom later worked for the Bronx district attorney’s office as investigators.

“What they did was not necessarily wrong — that is the way things were done then,” Ms. Clark said in 2019 shortly after Mr. Burton’s exoneration. “For 1989, that was standard practice for the N.Y.P.D., but now we know better.”

Lawyers for Mr. Burton, however, likened the detectives on his case to Louis Scarcella, a Brooklyn homicide detective who has been linked to several wrongful convictions, and whose tactics led to a review of 70 murder cases. At least eight convictions have been overturned at the request of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

“The question that should be on everyone’s mind is how many other people were coerced into falsely confessing by these detectives and continue to languish behind bars?” said Susan Friedman, an Innocence Project lawyer who worked on Mr. Burton’s case.

With a woman dead, police turn to her teenage son

The events that led up to Mr. Burton’s confession are detailed in his lawsuit and in other court filings related to his exoneration.

Two days after Mr. Burton’s mother was killed, the detectives arrived at a house where he was staying with his godmother and asked him to come to the 47th Precinct for a polygraph, he said in his lawsuit. When he arrived, however, he realized that the request was a ruse to get him to the police station without a guardian.

Mr. Burton did not know he had become the prime suspect after a teacher mistakenly told the investigators he had missed a morning class the day of the killing. (The teacher later said he had actually been in school.)

The detectives thought the killer was “an insider” who had staged the crime scene, according to court papers filed to vacate Mr. Burton’s conviction.

The contents of Ms. Burton’s purse were scattered on the floor and her car was missing, but there was no evidence of rape or of a struggle, the papers said. Ms. Burton’s husband was in Jamaica at the time.

Two hours into the roughly six-hour interrogation, Detective Viggiano started to bluff the teenager, pretending there was evidence that he was the killer, Mr. Burton and his lawyer in the federal suit, Jonathan C. Moore, said.

In an interview, Mr. Burton recalled breaking into tears and crying out: “I didn’t kill my mom.”

It is not illegal in New York for the police to deceive suspects about evidence to get a confession. Although state courts have thrown out some confessions obtained through such tactics, they have not banned the practice.

Mr. Burton said in an interview and in court papers that Detective Viggiano had warned him that if he did not confess to the killing, he could still go to prison for the statutory rape of his girlfriend, who was 13, and that rapists were abused in prison.

If he confessed, the detectives said, his mother’s death would be treated as an accident in Family Court and he would be released to his father, Mr. Burton said.

“I said, ‘What do I have to say?’” Mr. Burton recalled in an interview. Then, he said, the detectives began to feed him a story, asking repeatedly: “At this point you did this?” He said he responded with “yes” and “no.”

Later, he said, they had him write down his statement and make a videotaped confession.

“The state of mind I was in,” Mr. Burton recalled, “finding my mother in that state, trying to process that — if they said, ‘We want you to say you were responsible for the assassination of J.F.K.,’ everything they told me to say, I would have.”

Instead of being taken to Family Court, Mr. Burton was paraded past a phalanx of flashing cameras and news reporters as he entered Bronx Criminal Court to be charged with murder as an adult.

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Sexual Harassment

HB 2155 Will Multiply Frivolous ‘Harassment’ Lawsuits, Harm Virginia Businesses Recovering from COVID Pandemic


Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


HB 2155 Will Multiply Frivolous ‘Harassment’ Lawsuits, Harm Virginia Businesses Recovering from COVID Pandemic

WASHINGTON / February 16, 2021 – SAVE is calling on Virginia lawmakers to oppose HB 2155, which dramatically expands the definition of “workplace harassment” to the point that almost any employee experiencing any job-related interpersonal discomfort could claim to be a victim of “harassment.”

As a result, any Virginia business could find itself the target of a costly lawsuit made by a disgruntled or under-performing employee. This would hamper efforts to overcome the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic on Virginia businesses.

The problems with HB 2155 start with its broad characterization of “workplace harassment,” which is defined as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age, marital status, or veteran status, regardless of whether it is direct or indirect, or verbal or nonverbal, that unreasonably alters an individual’s terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” (1)

The words “intimidating, hostile, or offensive” are not defined by the bill, so an employee who is merely “offended” by a person’s personality, awkward remarks, or even slovenly attire could claim to be a victim. A supervisor who gives a performance review that reveals areas of needed employee improvement could be accused of harassment, as well.

The bill expands the scope of “workplace harassment” in several other ways. The bill would allow trivial incidents to give rise to a lawsuit by stating that “Conduct may be workplace harassment regardless of whether:

  • the complaining party is the individual being harassed;
  • the complaining party acquiesced or otherwise submitted to or participated in the conduct;
  • the conduct is also experienced by others outside of the protected class involved;
  • the complaining party was able to continue carrying out the duties and responsibilities of such complaining party’s job despite the conduct;
  • the conduct caused a tangible or psychological injury; or
  • the conduct occurred outside of the workplace.”

The “conduct occurred outside of the workplace” provision is especially problematic for employees who gather for lunch, holiday parties, and other events.

The provisions of HB 2155 are inconsistent with court decisions and federal law (2).

Eight percent of Americans report being targeted by a false allegation of abuse (3). Such allegations undermine due process, dissipate scare public resources, undermine the credibility of future victims, and harm the reputations and careers of the falsely accused.


Campus Title IX Title IX Equity Project

233 Investigations of Colleges for Sex-Discriminatory Programs and Scholarships


Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


233 Investigations of Colleges for Sex-Discriminatory Programs and Scholarships

WASHINGTON / February 15, 2021 – The federal Office for Civil Rights has announced that it currently has 233 open investigations of programs and scholarships that allegedly discriminate against male students (1). The sex-bias complaints have been submitted by a variety of individuals and groups, including the SAVE Title IX Equity Project.

The sex-discriminating universities are located in 47 states across the country. These states are listed at the bottom of this press release, along with the number of institutions in each state under investigation. The states with the largest number of colleges under investigation are Pennsylvania (22 institutions), California (19), New York (16), and Ohio (10).

Last week, for example, it was reported that OCR has opened an investigation of the BOLD Leadership program at Ithaca College, which “requires that applicants identify as women.” (2) The University of Missouri – Columbia offers 70 scholarships for female students, and one for male students. The scholarship for male students, the Eric G. Rowe Scholarship Fund, is reserved for “deserving farm boys,” according to a description on the university website (3).

Sex-discrimination in higher education appears to be widespread. A review of North Carolina’s largest colleges concluded that discrimination on the basis of sex is “rampant.”  “In the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion, North Carolina universities have often chosen inequity and exclusion,” author Adam Kissel ironically comments (4).

A number of the institutions have eliminated their sex-discriminatory programs (5). But many of the OCR investigations were opened over six months ago, revealing that some universities may be resisting efforts to assure equal opportunity for all students.

The federal Title IX law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” On January 14, the Department of Education released a guidance that re-affirms the ban on sex discrimination, stating, “a school may not administer scholarships, fellowships or other forms of financial assistance that impose a preference or restriction on the basis of sex, with limited exceptions.” (6)

Female students now represent 56% of all undergraduate students, compared to 44% male students (7). Male students are under-represented in numerous fields such as the health professions, public administration, education, and others (8).

To avoid government sanctions, SAVE urges university officials to take steps to assure sex-discriminatory programs and scholarships are promptly removed.

Listing of States with Universities Under Investigation for Sex-Discriminatory Programs

  • AL – 5 universities
  • AR – 3
  • AZ – 4
  • CA – 19
  • CO – 3
  • CT – 3
  • DC – 2
  • DE – 1
  • FL – 9
  • GA – 4
  • HI – 1
  • IA – 4
  • ID – 5
  • KS – 6
  • KY – 7
  • LA – 2
  • MA – 4
  • MD – 5
  • ME – 1
  • MI – 1
  • MN – 8
  • MO – 4
  • MT – 4
  • NC – 3
  • ND – 1
  • NE – 3
  • NH – 2
  • NJ – 5
  • NV – 3
  • NY – 16
  • OH – 10
  • OK – 2
  • OR – 4
  • PA – 22
  • SC – 2
  • SD – 2
  • TN – 3
  • TX – 3
  • UT – 5
  • VA – 9
  • VT – 1
  • WA – 4
  • WI – 9
  • WV – 2
  • WY – 2



  1. In the Type of Discrimination box, select “Title IX – Single Sex Campus Programs” or “Title IX – Single Sex Scholarships”
Trauma Informed Victim-Centered Investigations

PR: Defense Attorneys Should Tell Police Chiefs to Halt Program that Will Bias Investigations, Worsen Wrongful Convictions, and Target Black Men


Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


Defense Attorneys Should Tell Police Chiefs to Halt Program that Will Bias Investigations, Worsen Wrongful Convictions, and Target Black Men

WASHINGTON / February 12, 2021 – SAVE is today calling on defense attorneys to urge the International Association of Chiefs of Police to promptly suspend a proposed program to promote so-called “victim-centered” investigations around the country (1). Such methods serve to negate the presumption of innocence and remove investigative impartiality.

“Victim-centered” approaches, sometimes referred to as “trauma-informed,” are known to bias the conduct of police investigations, which contribute to one-third of all wrongful convictions (2).  A recent National Registry of Exonerations report documents five ways in which biased police investigations contribute to wrongful convictions (3):

  1. Concealment of evidence
  2. Fabrication of evidence
  3. Witness tampering
  4. Misconduct in interrogations, or
  5. Making false statements at trial

Such guilt-presuming investigations were found to target Black men. For murder cases, 78% of Black exonerees, compared to 64% of White exonerees, were victims of official misconduct. The misconduct disparity was even greater for drug crimes: 47% among Blacks and 22% for Whites, according to the National Registry of Exonerations (3).

A recent editorial describes victim-centered investigations as a “Pandora’s Box” because they place “emotional sympathy, prejudice, and ideologically driven agendas above cool-headed forensic and legal reasoning.” (4)

On January 28, 2021, CPI sent a letter to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, calling on the group to suspend the project (5).  To date, the IACP has not acknowledged or provided a substantive response to the letter.

The inter-related problems of police accountability, wrongful convictions, and racial bias have been repeatedly cited as top legislative priorities for 2021 (6,7,8).  Defense attorneys are urged to tell the International Association of Chiefs of Police to suspend its unethical and harmful “victim-centered” program. Contact IACP Executive Director Vincent Talucci at , or telephone: 703-836-6767.